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Small Grants Program

Graduate Funding for Atkinson Thematic Areas

How to Apply


  • Cornell graduate students and postdocs
  • Undergraduates are invited to contact us with interest in working on Small Grants projects

The 2020 cycle is closed:

  • View previous RFP

Cornell Atkinson’s Small Grants Program supports Cornell graduate students and postdocs with funding for research that aligns with our working group theme of Reducing Climate Risks.

Projects in reducing climate risks should innovate technology, financial instruments, and policy to reduce greenhouse gas concentrations and adapt infrastructure, agriculture, and health systems to equitably protect human health, safety, and prosperity from the impact of increasingly catastrophic droughts, floods, storms, and wildfires.



  • 2019  

    Ashley Jernigan

    Increasing Food Security: Four recipients from Entomology, Soil and Crop Sciences, Natural Resources, and Plant Breeding and Genetics

    Reducing Climate Risk: Four recipients from Architecture, Anthropology, Biological and Environmental Engineering, and Soil and Crop Sciences

    Increasing Food Security

    Ashley Jernigan (Entomology)

    Ashley Jernigan

    Ashley Jernigan is a PhD student in Kyle Wickings’ lab in the Department of Entomology. She is interested in the effect of soil microarthropods on crop productivity and agroecosystem functioning. Her research explores how changes in microarthropod abundance and community composition impacts nutrient cycling and plant pathogen transmission and suppression. With this funding, Ashley is completing a project investigating how alterations to microarthropod abundance and community composition impacts soil nitrogen cycling and plant nutrient acquisition under different fertilizer treatments. Elucidating these important agroecosystem relationships will allow for improved management of crops and will lead to increased system resiliency.

    Eugene Law (Soil and Crop Sciences)

    Eugene Law

    Eugene Law is a PhD candidate in Soil and Crop Sciences co-advised by Toni DiTommaso (Weed Ecology and Management Lab) and Matt Ryan (Sustainable Cropping Systems Lab). His current research explores the development of cropping systems and market opportunities for two novel perennial grain crops, intermediate wheatgrass and perennial cereal rye, using a systems approach that incorporates aspects of agronomy, ecology, soil science, and economics. He will use funding from the Atkinson Center to expand the breadth of his research on how perennial grain crops might enhance soil health by comparing indicators of soil carbon storage and soil structure regeneration in fields of perennial intermediate wheatgrass and annual wheat.

    Ryan Lepak (Natural Resources)

    Ryan Lepak

    Ryan Lepak is a postdoctoral research associate working with Peter McIntyre in the Department of Natural Resources, Casey Dillman, Cornell Museum of Vertebrates and the Mercury Research Laboratory in the US Geological Survey. His research focuses on understanding current and past sources of neurotoxic methylmercury to freshwater fisheries of central Africa by measuring stable isotope tracers in fish preserved in museums worldwide. The support from SBF will allow Ryan to visit and subsample fish from European museums that predate many instances of anthropogenic mercury contamination like mercury-mediated small-scale artisanal gold mining which has expanded rapidly in this region in unregulated ways. Accessing greater spatial and temporal coverage from museums specimens will allow Ryan to better inform the region of the extent of contamination and inform these impoverished nations of realistic baselines they may strive to achieve for safer fish consumption.

    William Stafstrom (Plant Breeding and Genetics)

    William Stafstrom

    Will Stafstrom is a Plant Breeding and Genetics graduate student working in Dr. Rebecca Nelson’s maize disease lab. He studies various ways of mitigating the harmful effects of mycotoxins produced by maize fungal pathogens. His research spans multiple scales from the genetic basis of mycotoxin resistance to landscape wide indicators of mycotoxins. His work supported by the Atkinson Center will focus on modeling mycotoxin risk in a smallholder farming system in Tanzania by integrating local surveys of mycotoxins with remote sensing datasets of environmental factors. This project intends to improve understanding of mycotoxins’ relationship with environmental conditions and to develop a useful tool for predicting mycotoxin risk areas on a yearly basis.

    Reducing Climate Risk

    Allison Bernett (Architecture)

    Allison Bernett

    Allison is pursuing a master of architecture degree and working in Dr. Timur Dogan’s Environmental Systems Lab in the architecture department. Prior to Cornell, Allison worked as a sustainability consultant. Her research in the lab focuses on developing an early design decision-making building simulation framework that when furnished with basic inputs generates design options that can be filtered by energy performance, carbon footprint, and cost criteria. Given that architects make critical early design decisions on orientation, massing, and structure that significantly affect the energy use and carbon footprint of the design, such a framework aims to better inform these initial decisions, reducing time and cost while improving building performance.

    Luisa Cortesi (Anthropology)

    Luisa Cortesi

    Luisa Cortesi (PhD, Yale, Forestry and Environmental Studies and Anthropology) is currently the S.H. Taylor postdoc in Anthropology and STS. She is an environmental anthropologist, interested in the environmental knowledge of increasingly disastrous waters, in particular floods and toxic drinking water, and environmental justice. She works primarily in North Bihar, India, a place that is recurrently flooded and increasingly so, where she asks under which conditions are people better equipped to face a disaster.

    Alexa Schmitz (Biological and Environmental Engineering)

    Alexa Schmitz

    Alexa is a postdoctoral researcher with the Barstow Lab in the Department of Biological and Environmental Engineering. Her research focuses on the development of an efficient and sustainable solution to the growing demand for rare earth elements in light of their utilization for renewable energy technologies, especially wind turbines. In collaboration with researchers at the Idaho National Lab, Alexa is using the bacterium, Gluconobacter oxydans, to extract these critical metals from end-of-life waste materials via its production of strong, but biodegradable, organic acids. This bioleaching process will hopefully replace some of the more harmful technologies currently in place for rare earth extraction. Funding from the Atkinson Center will support Alexa’s development of whole-genome knockout collections in G. oxydans, allowing her to comprehensively identify genes underlying the bioleaching process that can be targeted for improvement through bioengineering.

    Itamar-Ariel Shabtai (Soil and Crop Sciences)

    Itamar Shabtai

    Itamar Shabtai is a postdoctoral fellow in the School of Integrative Plant Science working in Johannes Lehmann’s lab. He is interested in how soil water content can be managed to stabilize organic carbon in the soil. Peat soils contain more organic carbon than all the forests of the worlds combined but their degradation under agricultural use is responsible for 6% of all anthropogenic CO2 emissions. Itamar will leverage ACSF funding to study how improving the water budget of agricultural peat soils can minimize peat carbon decomposition. This work will help develop management tools to reduce CO2 emissions from agricultural peat soils.

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